SAN ANTONIO — The number of regular-season games, points, assists and steals total out at 19,646, but it’s impossible to accurately quantify what Manu Ginobili has brought to the San Antonio Spurs over his 15-year career.
Citing sources, ESPN NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski reported Ginobili, who turns 40 next week, is in the process of finalizing a return to the Spurs for his 16th season. A source said the team is still working through contracts to bring back a couple of its own free agents, with Pau Gasol at the top of the list.
Ginobili’s return is good news not only for the Spurs but also for the NBA: yet another glimpse of a player often touted as one of the most decorated international players in basketball history.
“Just like [Tim Duncan] didn’t decide right away, it’s usually best to take a little bit of a respite from basketball, crowds and all that, and think about what you want to do,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said at the conclusion of this past season.
With that respite apparently over, the Spurs can turn their attention to chasing a sixth title after a relatively quiet offseason that — outside of landing free-agent forward Rudy Gay — saw few notable additions to a 61-win roster from 2016-17.
When discussing Spurs veterans, Popovich often tosses around the term “corporate knowledge,” which is precisely what Ginobili possesses to go with the leadership, intangibles and playmaking ability that can change the course of a game.
With Duncan retired and Tony Parker not expected to return until early 2018 from his quadriceps injury suffered in the Western Conference semifinals, Ginobili currently serves as the lone bridge between the old and the new. And he’s well-versed in “The Spurs Way.”
That’s extremely important for this team, which Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford readily admit is in a transitional phase as the Spurs look to build around superstar and MVP finalist Kawhi Leonard.
“It’s hard to choose a few [of my favorite moments] because it’s easy to remember the wins, the good moments, the highs,” Ginobili said at the end of the season. “But even the lows were great, too, in a sense of connection, camaraderie, of doing it together. We win it together. We lose it together. Even the bad moments, the tough ones, I’m proud of them, too. Those moments get you better, smarter, make you grow. So it’s hard to choose one moment. I think the whole trip is incredible, and it’s been incredible.”
Still, the journey isn’t over.
Ginobili has played in 992 regular-season games with 213 postseason appearances over his first 15 seasons, while receiving All-Star and All-NBA honors twice.
But the accolades never led Ginobili astray from his usual brand of self-deprecating humor, a quality that permeates an organization that prides itself on not taking itself too seriously.
“I’m the same guy that was struggling against Memphis [in the opening round of the 2017 playoffs], and that you were all concerned [about], the exact same guy,” Ginobili said. “Sometimes having good games. Sometimes bad ones. Sometimes making shots, and sometimes not. I’m the same guy, and I always said that winning the championship or not winning it, scoring 20 the last game or second-to-last or whatever, or zero, is not going to change who I am or the decision I make.
“I can’t throw nine months to the trash and just respond to the way I felt the last game.”
Ginobili started what many expected to be his final game for the Spurs when the team was eliminated in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals at the hands of the Golden State Warriors. Popovich said he inserted Ginobili into the starting lineup as a way to honor the veteran, and he responded with 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting to go with seven assists before leaving the court with 2:25 remaining to a standing ovation at the AT&T Center.
Throughout the 2016-17 regular season, Ginobili often cracked jokes on the road at arenas around the league, hinting he was likely playing at those locations for the last time.
We’ll hear more of that this upcoming season. And for Spurs fans, that’s certainly not a bad thing.
Considered one of the creators of San Antonio’s culture of selflessness, Ginobili has wowed crowds with an array of unconventional moves, clever passes and arguably the league’s most dangerous Eurostep — all while playing with a relentlessness that bordered on recklessness.
“He puts his body on the line every night. He’ll do it to make a great play for the team. He has no regard for what happens to his body,” Spurs shooting guard Danny Green said.
“He’ll do what’s necessary to win games and just help our momentum. I’ve the seen passes, I’ve seen moves, I’ve seen Manu do a little bit of everything. He’s been doing it for a while. I’ve learned a ton [from Ginobili] since I’ve gotten here. From Day 1, I’ve tried to be a sponge and take everything that he’s done — he makes it look so easy, but it’s not easy to do.”
Ginobili cemented his legacy long ago by changing the way teams view reserves, as the versatile shooting guard — despite being one of the league’s most talented players — has selflessly come off the bench for the majority of his career.
“I’m sure other coaches have used it,” said Warriors assistant Mike Brown, who once coached Ginobili as part of the Spurs’ staff.
“[Ginobili is] going to be remembered for the titles, the scoring and all that other stuff. But you talk about a guy that’s as talented as he is, could have done anything in the NBA for many years. He was humble enough to be one of the first to accept coming off the bench graciously. That speaks volumes.”
Despite Ginobili’s age, the guard hasn’t shown major signs of regressing. Ginobili did miss his first 15 shots of the playoffs in the Spurs’ first-round matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies, leading many to wonder whether it was time for him to call it quits.
Ginobili thought about it, too.
“You know, for moments, I felt like I didn’t [have anything left] in the Memphis series,” he said.
Then in the second round, Ginobili suddenly appeared to turn back to clock. In Game 5 of the conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets, after sending the game to overtime with a driving left-handed layup, Ginobili blocked James Harden’s final-second attempt to preserve a Spurs overtime victory.
In the West finals, Ginoboli pulled together two of his best postseason outings over the past three years (21 points in Game 3 and 15 in Game 4), showing the eventual NBA champions that the old man might not be done just yet.
“He kind of worked us pretty good in these four games, so I think he’s got quite a bit left in the tank,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “One thing about it: He’s definitely not a liability on the floor. He can still defend. He can still score buckets with the best of them. So definitely much respect to Manu and their organization. First-ballot Hall of Famer, for sure.
“Still one of the toughest guys. Anytime someone asks me like: ‘Who [are] the toughest guys you ever [had to] guard in the league?’ He’s one of the ones, always, in my answer.”
Green will get another crack at facing Ginobili in 2017-18. And for that, Spurs fans — and NBA fans — should be thrilled.